I still remember the first thing I learned in college. It happened after dinner on my second day in the dorm.
Well, I guess I learned some things before that Monday night. I learned where my room was. I learned how to set up and use some of the computer stuff I would need. I learned how to buy textbooks. But none of that really counts. Those were more like following directions. I’m talking about the first thing that someone taught me at school. And it wasn’t anything I learned in a classroom from a professor.
I walked to the dining hall for dinner on Monday night, my fourth meal in the dining hall. The common building for the South Residential Area was two stories high. On the first floor was a lounge with a pool table and couches; a little shop with frozen yogurt, sandwiches, and baked goods; our mailboxes; and a help desk that was open 24 hours in case we needed anything related to student housing. The dining hall was on the second floor, and a large, wide stairway led from the outside up to the dining hall. This was the main entrance; I don’t think there was even a publicly accessible way to get to the dining hall from the first floor rooms I just mentioned.
I walked toward a round table with a few familiar faces. To my left was a short Filipino guy whom I had met after the meeting with the RAs last night; he had introduced himself then as Taylor Santiago, and he lived on the third floor. I thought that was kind of an interesting name. Back in 1994, there weren’t many people with the first name Taylor at all, and I’ve always thought of it more as a girl’s name. There was a one-hit wonder from the late 80s named Taylor Dayne, and of course as an adult I can’t go anywhere without hearing about Taylor Swift, and they are both women. But I’ve also known a few guy Taylors too, and Taylor Santiago was the first.
To Taylor’s left was his roommate, David; he was very large and built like a football player, and I thought I remembered him being one of the guys throwing the ball during quiet hours last night. Gurpreet, the RA down the hall from me, was next. Next to him was Michael-or-Ian, whom I had met yesterday when I was moving in but whose name I wasn’t sure of. Next to him was someone I didn’t know, a tall thin boy with acne scars and dark blond hair. And next to him, to my right, was a guy who I thought was named Keith; I had talked to him at some point earlier in the day, but I didn’t remember what room he lived in.
“Hey, Greg!” Taylor said. “Come sit with us!”
“Hi. How are you?”
“I’m good.” Taylor then turned to the others. “Have all of you guys met Greg yet?”
The others at the table nodded and murmured in the affirmative, except for the one whom I hadn’t met yet. “Hey, Greg,” he said. “I’m Mike.” Gesturing toward Michael-or-Ian sitting next to him, he said, “I’m Ian’s roommate.” That answered my question once and for all as to who was Michael and who was Ian.
“Nice to meet you, Mike.”
“So where are you from?” Mike asked me.
“On highway 11, near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”
“What’s that near? I’ve heard of Santa Lucia.”
“About 50 miles south of San Tomas. Does that help?”
“Where are you from?”
“Pleasant Creek. No one ever knows where that is either.”
“I drove through it yesterday to get here. It’s on highway 6 next to Los Nogales. East of Bay City.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I don’t know. I just do. I’m fascinated by maps and roads and stuff like that.”
Keith, at least I think that was his name, joined in. “I bet you don’t know where Hilltown is.”
Hilltown… I thought for a minute. “On highway 11 and 94, between Bay City and San Tomas, right?”
“Whoa!” Keith said. “How do you do this?”
“I don’t know. I just do. I pay attention to these things.”
“I bet you never get lost on road trips,” Taylor said.
“That’s pretty much true.”
“Hey, guys?” Gurpreet said. “After dinner I’m meeting some friends to play a pickup game of Ultimate Frisbee. Do any of you want to come?”
“Sure!” Mike exclaimed eagerly.
“I’m in,” Keith said.
“I don’t know how to play,” I said. “What is this?”
“It’s kind of like football or soccer, but with a Frisbee instead of a ball.”
I am not a natural athlete. I am slow and clumsy. Mark got all the athletic talent in our family. “Sure,” I said, not really sure what I was getting myself into, but wanting to do something other than stay in my room that night.
“Meet me in the lounge at 7, and we’ll walk over to the field together.”
“Sounds good,” Mike said.
An hour later, Gurpreet, Mike, Keith, and I were walking to the old part of the campus, to the recreation field on A Street next to the football field. On the way, Gurpreet had explained to me the rules of the game. Scoring was similar to football, in that your team had to get the Frisbee into an end zone, but the disc could only move by passing. Players could not run with the disc. And if the Frisbee hits the ground, the other team takes it. I would learn years later that the game is officially just called Ultimate, because the governing body of the sport is not affiliated with the manufacturer of Frisbee brand flying discs.
“Sounds pretty simple,” I said.
“It is,” Gurpreet replied. “It’s going to be a lot of running, though.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Gurpreet’s friends met us at the field. They looked much more athletic than me. Fortunately, some of them were on our team. We lined up on each side, and the other team threw the disc the length of the field toward our team, analogous to the opening kickoff in football. We began passing it down the field. One of Gurpreet’s friends passed it in my direction, but further downfield from where I stood. I ran after it, but the disc sailed over my head.
“Sorry,” I said to Mike as we both ran in the same direction trying to play defense.
“It’s ok,” he said. “That would have been hard for anyone to catch.”
Someone from the other team threw a pass to a teammate in my direction. I ran as fast as I could, jumped up just in front of the intended receiver, and slapped the disc down to the ground. I waited for a teammate to get open. I saw Mike, tried to throw it about 20 yards down the field, and the disc curved off to the right, rolling to the ground far from where Mike was. So far, I was not good at this game.
We scored first, on the next possession after that one. Keith threw a short pass to Gurpreet, who noticed one of his friends open downfield; he threw a perfectly aimed pass, which his friend caught as he ran into the end zone. The opposing team scored shortly after that, with a series of quick passes down the field.
We had agreed that the first team to 10 points would be the winners. After we had been playing for a while, my team led by a score of 9 to 7. The opposing team was deep on their own side of the field. They made a short pass that should have gotten them a few yards closer to their goal, but the guy who caught the pass dropped it, for no apparent reason. Keith picked it up. I saw an opening; I ran into the end zone in a direction away from all the opposing players. I looked at Keith, about ten yards away, and waved my hands, trying not to attract the attention of the other team, who still did not seem to notice that I was in the end zone. Keith passed the disc straight to me, and I caught it, holding on with both hands.
“YEAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!” I shouted.
Keith, Mike, Gurpreet, and some of the others on my team ran toward me. “We won!” Mike exclaimed, giving me a forceful high five.
“That was a great catch!” Gurpreet said.
“WOOOOOOHOOOOOO!” I shouted.
I was still on a high as we walked back across campus to the South Residential Area. I just scored the winning point in a game that I didn’t know existed a few hours ago. Most of the others in the game had played before, and yet the opportunity to score the winning point came to me, not any of them. I had spent much of my life in the shadows, quietly doing my work at school, staying out of the way at home while engaging in solitary hobbies that the rest of my family did not understand. But now, I had come to the University of Jeromeville, and it was my time to shine.
I’ve often told people over the years that the first thing I learned in college was how to play Ultimate Frisbee. I don’t think I said that back when I was actually in college, though. Now that I think about it, the first time I ever said that probably wasn’t until around 2003, when I was living in Pleasant Creek and Brent Wang had that weekly Ultimate pick-up game. Wait… I haven’t mentioned Brent Wang yet. I didn’t know him yet freshman year. I’ll get there eventually. But anyway, given the way that things went during my college years, it really is appropriate that the first thing I learned wasn’t something I learned in a classroom.